The Lydiard Rapid-Progression Base Building Review

After 38 days of consecutive runs, a total of 233 miles and a peak of 66 miles last week, I have finished this season’s Lydiard rapid-progression base building program – and survived to tell the story.

The full 10-week base building program (I used week 3 as a post-Marathon reverse taper and continued with the base building program through week 7).

The first few weeks of running as slowly as the program dictated was awkward. The music from my iPod didn’t match the tempo and I found myself skipping over all my favorite songs. The volume went up, the volume went down. Sometimes I turned the stupid thing off altogether and ran in silence. Everything seemed to be an adjustment, and it took a couple of weeks to settle down.

It was my husband who first recognized that recovery from these slow runs was much quicker – a fraction of the typical time. The intensity of running had been eliminated by running slow, and my body was able to recover much sooner.

By the third week, running had begun to take on a life of its own. Day in and day out. I can’t say that nothing hurt, but there were no issues that lingered. My knees were sore here and there, my legs were downright tired from time to time. And, it was interesting what kinds of troubles arose from repetitive stress.

Whatever the issue, things had to be dealt with immediately because there was no spare day for regrouping if something went bad. For example, one day the threads on the underside of the little “L” that had been sewn onto my left sock became unraveled and irritated the skin on top of my left foot. It was sore for hours.  A few days ago, I failed to notice a callus had developed on my little toe and it became so tender I could hardly run. Each time something happened, action had to be taken straight away to prevent this new issue from wrecking the next day’s run. A good lesson to learn for any training phase.

Lydiard’s claim was that pace would slowly improve without added effort and this became true for me. The same slow, barely-faster-than-walking effort was 15 to 30 seconds per mile faster when I finished the program. My aerobic system was improving in just 5 weeks’ time.

My husband asked me one day, “Tell me again, why are you doing this program?” I had to remind him that most of every race regardless of distance uses the aerobic (vs anaerobic) system and it was only logical that you spend some training time to develop this system. He said, “So you won’t know……” As his sentence trailed off, I finished it for him, “I won’t know how well it’s worked until I run another race.” This is true. (Two months later, I ran a personal best time at the 10k distance.)

This is the part of running that I enjoy so much. There’s as much strategy in this sport as any other. If you really want to continue to develop over the course of your individual career, you have to train smart all year. This base building phase will set the baseline for the training I pursue throughout the rest of the year.

Maybe the question is, would I do this again? There were days I would have said no. Reflection always provides valuable insight, however, and now that it’s over my view has changed.

Race-specific training requires an intensity that leaves you feeling a little like you’ve fought to run. The slow pace of base-building became comfortable, refreshing — leaving me rested and ready once again to take on the intensity of speed-work (despite having increased base mileage to a new personal high in a relatively short period of time).

Slow running over weeks of sequential days gave me a new perspective of the base-building phase. There are times to work hard, train fast and fight to do your best, but it is equally important to spend time focusing on the simple task of running. I thoroughly enjoyed endless days of I’m-not-training-for-a-damn-thing; to enjoy the running for the love of running.

I can’t yet report on how it would feel to run 70 consecutive days, but I can confirm that the body will adapt to strenuous training with careful restraint of pace.

Given the luxury of organizing your calendar to accommodate 7-day/week training for a number of consecutive weeks (no small feat), I would highly recommend the effort.

Let’s Do This Thing: the Lydiard Buildup Program

There were 5 days of total rest after the last marathon, and the story evolved from there. It is quite the opposite of an adrenaline-induced plan and more along the lines of pre-meditated suicide. By now, I was fully convinced I would be injured, insanely tired… maybe both – and yet, I proceeded to do this thing anyway.

This thing is the Lydiard Buildup Program as interpreted by John Molvar. For me, mileage builds from 20 miles per week in post-marathon recovery to 66 miles per week in just over 5-weeks of 7-day/week training.

The decision to run 7 days a week did not come about immediately. First I researched.

Most elite coaches speak of how many total workouts per week rather than days of training because “doubles” are standard practice in the training of an elite runner. Coach Jay Johnson’s elite runners average 11 sessions/week over 7 days of training while others double six days a week.

Coach John DeHart advises a rest day is only necessary if you feel you need one. Some elite programs include one rest day every 4th week.

For many years, my training program has included 5 days of running, one day of cross-training, one rest day, and occasionally a “double” once or twice a week. The transition from a 6-day training program to 7 days has been relatively easy. The secret sauce is in keeping the effort easy.

Staying true to the Lydiard-way, I have spent 5 out of the 7 days on a flat surface, which in Western North Carolina means the track at the Rec Center.

Lydiard says to ensure that your running is geared to aerobic development and not muscular development, as much running as possible should be done on paved surfaces to get maximum traction (or to achieve the best aerobic development within the given time, putting the pressure on the cardiac system not the leg muscles), and over a flat course so neuromuscular breakdown won’t stop the duration of the long run.

Tired & Sore hit me on Day 13 and, as promised by Lydiard, the soreness was gone within a couple of days… as was the nagging soreness in my hips and calves that had been there since the marathon. By Day 15, nothing hurt. Then came Day 19… right knee was stiff and swollen.

Lydiard cautions that when you ascend rapidly, the tendons around the knees and in the front shins can become sore and you may have to ice them after every run for a few weeks until they grow stronger, but there is no need to stop running. Lydiard says to also expect muscle soreness but don’t take days off, just run slower if you have to and the soreness will gradually subside.

There was a day of Ibuprofen….. a good soak in Epson salt, and the stiffness subsided. Zero days were missed.

In Periodized training, 7-day training weeks fit nicely in the base building phase. It would be difficult for most of us to maintain the hard effort of race-specific training without the physiological benefits of rest.

Although my take-away may change over the last 14 days of this program, there are a few things I’ve learned thus far about rapid progression training every day.

ONE. Keep it slow. Lydiard says no run should leave you feeling tired. Running 1 to 1-1/2 minutes per mile slower than your typical training pace is critical. It goes back to the rule of only one stressor at a time. The rapid progression of mileage is the stressor for this training phase and there is no room for speed.

TWO. Eliminate Excuses. If you want to succeed at any program, you have to get rid of whatever might tempt you to fail. Get yourself out there and just start moving.

THREE. Refuel properly. Running this slowly changes thirst. You may find you don’t get thirsty so much during the run although the dehydration happens all the same. I’ve found myself very dehydrated several hours after the run.

FOUR. Create a meaningful goal. The person who knows what he wants to accomplish will accomplish more within that time. Clarity of goals gives you added incentive and motivation. Doubling or tripling mileage in just a few weeks takes a lot of effort and commitment. The more committed you are to the goal, the more likely you will succeed. Once again, this is where running coincides with life.